Summary: Zoe Bennett feels lost at her fancy private school. She's not the star drama queen like her sister, or a brainiac math genius like her brother. Luckily her best friend, Dara, is just as content as Zoe is to stay in the shadows -- or is she? When Dara gets a part in the school musical, Zoe feels abandoned. What's worse, Zoe's practically being stalked by the weird new kid, Lucas. Then Lucas accidentally drops his notebook and Zoe finds it's written in symbols and numbers -- it's complete gibberish. Yet she sees her name in there, plain as day. Now Lucas is telling her she's a natural code-reading genius -- or some kind of mental freak.
As Zoe's daydreaming lands her in trouble at school, anonymous notes start to appear in students' lockers, and Zoe is the number one suspect. Solving word puzzles may come easily to her, but now there's more at stake -- will Zoe be able to solve her way out of this?
With plenty of wit and insight, Barbara Dee has created this fresh, funny story of a girl who discovers that fitting in sometimes means standing out. -- McElderry Books
SOLVING ZOE by Barbara Dee is another example of entertaining middle-grade fiction that also contains some very valuable lessons. As a mother of a middle-grade daughter, I love that there are so many terrific and fun books out there for her. I thought SOLVING ZOE had a very interesting plot, great characters, and even some codes/ciphers for the reader to solve. I really liked the book, and I think middle-grade kids are going to love it too. It's one of those books that both parents and their kids will appreciate (although it might be for very different reasons.)
I really liked the character of Zoe; and while she definitely marched to her own beat, she still seemed to embody so many of the traits of young teens. In many ways, Zoe is a typical teenager -- she has issues with her friends and her school, she's not quite sure where she fits in, and she is very insecure. However, Zoe isn't exactly like normal teens that I know because she has the amazing skill to solve ciphers almost effortlessly. Lucas, the new boy in school who is considered a genius at solving codes, discovers Zoe's talent and tries to befriend her. Zoe isn't really interested in being friends with Lucas; but when she finds herself being left out of her best friend's life, she starts hanging out with him and discovering her "new" talent.
This book has so many valuable lessons for young kids in today's society. I like that this book encourages children to discover that makes them special and to embrace it. I also like that the book teaches children some important things about life, family, and friends. I really appreciated how Zoe matured throughout this book. She not only learned things about herself and her talents, but she learned a great deal about responsibility. While Zoe was taking care of Isaac's pets, she was forced to make a few very important decisions. I liked how Zoe felt empowered by being in charge of something and handling problems by herself.
Another thing I really enjoyed about SOLVING ZOE were the parts about ciphers and codes. I didn't take the time to try to figure out any of them, but I'm sure some kids will definitely want to give it a shot. (My daughter actually said that the codes hurt her head.) I liked that the author included an answer key to the codes in the back of the book; and I really enjoyed reading the history behind a lot of the ciphers. Ms. Dee also included some further resources about codes, ciphers, and the Mayan civilization.
I thoroughly enjoyed SOLVING ZOE, and I can't wait to read more of Ms. Dee's books. Her first book is called JUST ANOTHER DAY IN MY INSANELY REAL LIFE, and it sounds like one that Booking Daughter and I would both enjoy. She also has another one in the works that I'm looking forward to reading. Based on SOLVING ZOE, I think Ms. Dee has an uncanny ability to "get" middle grade kids. I thought the characters, while quirky, seemed very real and reflected the feelings that I associate with young teens. If you'd like to learn more about Ms. Dee, you should definitely check out her website and even this Q&A.
I think SOLVING ZOE would make an ideal selection for our mother-daughter book club. There are some wonderful topics to discuss like not fitting in, recognizing your special talent, and making friends. I was so impressed that Ms. Dee has even included some discussion questions for both of her books on her website.
Booking Daughter really enjoyed SOLVING ZOE too. Here are her thoughts:
I just read SOLVING ZOE and loved the story. I like Zoe because she didn't blend in and didn't like her school. I liked Lucas because he also stood out, but he wasn't that ashamed because he was confident about his talents.
I would recommend SOLVING ZOE to my friends because I enjoyed the lessons in the book. I like that Zoe learned about friendship and about herself.
Thanks to the author for sending me an ARC copy of SOLVING ZOE.